Winchester: A Step into English History

Trip Start Jan 02, 2006
Trip End May 30, 2006

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hi all,

Greetings from Winchester. Now that I have been in the United Kingdom for a little over 2 weeks, I was glad to take a daytrip out of the hustle and bustle of London and spend a beautiful, sunny January day in the historic English capital of Winchester, a quaint English town 63 miles southwest of London in Hampshire.

Winchester was the capital of England during the reign of the king Alfred the Great, as it was the capital of his kingdom Wessex. Later it was an important capital under William the Conqueror, before its decline in importance in the 12th and 13th Centuries.

To get to Winchester, I used the services of the National Express, the U.K.'s primary intercity bus service. I can say that I was very impressed by the punctuality and cleanliness of the service. It was a two-hour ride out to Winchester from central London, however, it was a pleasant jaunt on the M4 through Surrey and into Hampshire.

When I reached Winchester, along with my travelling companion Wes, we were dropped off near the magnificent statue of King Alfred himself. Alfred is a figure from history that I greatly admire. His tenacity and determination to win the freedom of his people from Danish rule is remarkable. In fact, he is apparently the only monarch in England's long history to carry the epithet, "the great," due to his noble character and exemplary leadership.

Anyway, Wes and I toured Winchester Cathedral, the Light Infantry Museum, the Winchester City Museum, the Great Hall, Queen Eleanor's Garden, and the "heart of the old capital," along the River Itchen and surrounding environs as well as the King's House.

Winchester is now a very quaint English town. Particularly near the River Itchen, the view is quite similar to the stereotypical English country scene. I was quite impressed by the vibrancy of the "high street", the main drag, which is the oldest street in all England. Winchester's high street is packed with department stores, restaurants, boutique shops, and various lanes leading to the town's attractions. The high street is so vibrant that it takes a little of the quaintness out of Winchester, but nonetheless, does little to reduce the appeal of the town.

Today was by far the best weather that I have experienced in England to-date: it was sunny and about 50 degrees farenheit. My favorite part of the day was sauntering along the River Itchen, soaking in the January sun and enjoying the quietitude and peace of England....England as I imagined it. I also enjoyed Winchester Cathedral which is impressive not only in its sheer size (it has the longest Gothic nave in all of England) but also in its intricate detail inside the building. Although it was a bit eerie, it was also interesting visiting the plaque over Jane Austen's grave inside the cathedral as well as the exterior of the house she died in. You all may be suprised to note that I love her novels....maybe I am a romantic at heart.

The Great Hall with King Henry VIII's round-table (constructed as the legendary King Arthur's roundtable) was also quite nice, although the overall interior of the Great Hall was quite spartan. On our self-guided walking tour, we also saw the oldest secondary school in England.

Another impressive structure was the King's House, which was originally constructed by Sir Christopher Wren for King Charles II back in the 17th Century. The building and the fountain and gardens were picture-postcard perfect. I actually used the panoramic mode to stitch together 5 frames in order to create a complete view of this immense building. Check it out in the album and let me know what you think.

The only thing that really struck me as a bit out of place was the proliferation of American business in this humble town. Within two city blocks, there was a Pizza Hut, a Blockbuster Video, and a McDonalds. A little shocking.

Overall, I would say that Winchester is a beautiful little town perfect for one day's stay. It is a little frustrating that most of the attractions in the town close by 4 PM, but it forces one to be more efficient and maximize one's tourism potential.

Tomorrow I plan on staying in London and touring the upscale, chic areas of Kensington, Knightsbridge, and Chelsea. Perhaps I will write a little on these areas tomorrow.

Until then, take care.

Happy Trails,

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